This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Dea Bala started meeting people via a Craigslist ad in 2014 and has been documenting their lives ever since. By listening to their stories — anonymously and for free — she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. In sharing them with you, she wants to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read prior Confessions here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
“I’m mad at me for being an anxious mess, too. But if I could help it, don’t you think I would?”
I’d say that I’ve always been a little on the anxious side. It probably goes back to my childhood — I was always stressing about school and grades, and what people thought of me. More than a handful of times, I’d go to the girls’ bathroom located to the right of the cafeteria and spend my lunch hour there. If it had been cleaner and a little less busy, I would probably have made a habit of it.
I don’t know if it’s lack of self awareness or what, but I didn’t realize until recently that my anxiety is out of control. A few months ago, my life went through a huge overhaul. I moved to a new city for a job, and that’s when things got really bad. Curiously, I didn’t feel stressed out before the move — I was enthusiastic and optimistic. But then it’s almost as if something clicked once I was settled into my new life, and I became a different person overnight.
My anxiety presents in the form of very frequent and intrusive bad thoughts. I sometimes wake up (or dream about) the anxiety-inducing thought. Other times, something will trigger it throughout the day. Once I’ve thought of something that upsets me or causes me anxiety, I can’t stop. It’s like getting a song stuck in my head. Sometimes I repeat the whole thought over and over again, other times just one phrase. So, for example, if the thought is that I’m a failure, I can spend a whole day repeating “failure, failure, failure,” to myself.
I suppose if it stopped there, it would almost be bearable. But I find that anxiety begets anxiety. If I go down the rabbit hole of anxious thought, I just berate myself or think about a worst case scenario. Lately, I’ve thought that I won’t be able to hack it on my own in the city, so they’ll fire me from my job (because I’m probably not as good as they thought I was when they hired me). Because I don’t have any savings (because I’m financially irresponsible), I’ll have to move back in with my parents. That will cause them a lot of shame. And then I imagine how our whole family and community will react to me — this big fat failure — returning, tail between legs.
The thing is, my brain can’t recognize that these thoughts are not rational or likely. When I’m in the throes of an anxiety attack, I don’t have the ability to discern between rational and irrational thought. To me, the likelihood of the above scenario coming true does seem about as likely — actually, probably more likely — as anything else. I become consumed with it and pretty soon, it’s all I can think about.
I don’t think anyone around me understands what I’m going through. Thankfully, nobody’s been awful enough to outright tell me to “snap out of it,” but I know that’s what they’re thinking. I know they’re thinking — well, what do you have to be so stressed out about? My mother told me one day: “When I was your age, I was taking care of three kids on my own. You want anxiety? Try that on for size.”
Honestly, I get it. She’s right. I’m mad at me for feeling this way, too. But if I could help it, don’t you think I would?
I honestly feel as though my life has become this black hole of bad thoughts. I long for the days when I wasn’t like this. I mean, I guess I was always a little anxious but never, never quite so bad as now. I just think of other people who don’t have to deal with this and how nice it must be to wake up in the morning and not feel like you need to be ready to fight a war against your darker self. It’s unbearable. I can’t just be — I always have to be warding off, fighting, resisting.